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Wilma recovery continues while preparations for new season begin

Wilma recovery continues while preparations for new season begin

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Wilma recovery continues while preparations for new season begin

May 25, 2007  News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  Orlando {0677}

An e-Review Feature
By Jenna De Marco**

A year and a half since Hurricane Wilma ravaged South Florida, recovery efforts continue to keep Florida United Methodist staff and volunteers busy.

Through Community Rebuilding Ecumenical Workforce (CREW) based in Clewiston, nearly 400 volunteers collectively have served more than 11,000 hours, working on recovery from Hurricane Wilma and Tropical Storm Ernesto. Photo courtesy of CREW. Photo #07-0579.

“I think probably the biggest thing that people don’t realize is that we are still actively working in Clewiston, western Palm Beach County, Imokalee and the Keys,” said Pam Garrison, manager of the Florida Conference Storm Recovery Center, which is changing its name this hurricane season to Disaster Recovery Ministry to better reflect the ministry’s role. “We still need volunteer work teams who are skilled labor, (especially those) with construction background and handyman background.”

One challenging aspect of the rebuilding process is finding skilled laborers, such as plumbers and electricians, who are licensed to do the work, Garrison said.

“In some cases, they are doing complete rebuilds from the ground up,” she added. “In other cases, they are doing major repairs, like drywall and roofing.”

In the Keys, some storm survivors are still living in Federal Emergency Management Agency trailers. The conference Disaster Recovery Ministry works through the local long-term recovery organization Paradise Interfaith Network (PIN) to help people move back to their homes if possible or relocate. The organizations work together to determine which one has the resources to fulfill the community’s unmet needs.

“We try to put a plan together for where they will go. We don’t make that decision for them because they have to take ownership of their own recovery process; we try to guide them,” Garrison said.

Disaster Recovery also maintains a close working relationship with the Community Rebuilding Ecumenical Workforce (CREW), which is based in Clewiston and was founded after Hurricane Wilma.

“We assisted them in getting started and we continue to assist them through Gricel Hernandez, one of our storm recovery representatives, who travels there regularly,” Garrison said. “In addition, to date, we have awarded $335,000 in grants to CREW. These grants go to our churches in Clewiston and Moore Haven, which then distribute the money to CREW. We also work with them to place volunteer work teams in the area to assist with rebuilding and repair.”

Trish Adams, a member of First United Methodist Church in Clewiston, serves as CREW’s executive director. In April she traveled to New Mexico to receive a National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD) award on behalf of CREW for excellence in long-term recovery partnerships.

“The reason we got the award was because we partner with so many people and because we come from such a small town that has few resources,” Adams said. “ … We’ve pulled in national, local and state organizations — faith-based and otherwise — different people have pitched in and helped us.”
Hernandez has worked to ensure CREW’s stability.
“My relationship with CREW is more like a family,” she said. “We have built a bond and are committed to helping the rural communities in their two very rural counties. I’m there to help them, whether it’s for advocacy, guidance, connection, advice or to just listen. We are always in constant communication.”

Marilyn Swanson, Disaster Recovery’s project director, and Hernandez also attended the NVOAD conference, working with the national American Red Cross to present a workshop about the Red Cross’ new Recovery Planning and Assistance Program.
“The reason they wanted us there is because they wanted to focus on partnerships. That was really the whole NVOAD conference — ‘Partnerships in Motion,’ ” Swanson said. “The theme words were cooperation, communication, coordination and collaboration in disaster response. That’s what we want to do here also with churches and district disaster teams.”

It has been a familiar site in Clewiston, nearly the hallmark of recovery efforts after a storm — blue tarpaulins and volunteers securing a roof. Among other tasks, volunteers working through Community Rebuilding Ecumenical Workforce (CREW) in Clewiston have helped homeowners reduce further damage to their homes by securing roofs after Hurricane Wilma and other storms damaged the South Florida community. Photo courtesy of CREW. Photo #07-0580. Web photo only.

Helping establish and support CREW is a good example of the Florida Conference’s efforts to maintain partnerships. Since last May, CREW’s nearly 400 volunteers collectively have served more than 11,000 hours, working on recovery from such storms as Hurricane Wilma and Tropical Storm Ernesto, according to Adams.
“We have received national attention for our volunteers, and their work is outlined often in our blog site, in Disaster News Network, local television and newspapers and other related publications, such as UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) … ,” Adams said.
Both the Florida Conference and CREW continue to need volunteers for storm recovery.
“We’re hoping that within the next 12 months we can finalize all of the Wilma victims,” Adams said. “The main reason it’s taking so long in our community is a lack of resources and a lack of funding.”
Other factors affecting the length of the recovery time include dealing with undocumented workers who are afraid to ask for assistance and language barriers, Adams said. Additionally, Hernandez noted, the entire process of applying for assistance and verifying actual needs takes time.
Disaster Recovery, however, is committed to helping for the long-term, Garrison said.
“Where the rubber meets the road is: ‘Who’s there when the cameras go away?’ ” she said. “That’s where The United Methodist Church shines.”
To that end, UMCOR has committed approximately $2.7 million for the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons to the Florida conference. In turn, the Florida Conference has already spent or earmarked about $2.3 million of that through 2008.
“We continue to award grants to hurricane damaged areas,” Swanson said. “One of the ways that we are going to be able to respond is by being one of the last ones to leave a recovery area. We don’t rush in and spend all our money in the beginning, and we know that long-term recovery takes a long time and we want to be able to provide funding to extend a long time.”
Swanson said UMCOR performs quarterly audits on the funds it distributes to Disaster Recovery and the Florida Conference has received about three times more money than it gave UMCOR for these disasters.
“Much more is coming from UMCOR than is coming from the conference,” Swanson said.
Individuals interested in donating money to Disaster Recovery may do so by writing a check to the Florida Conference, made payable to Florida Conference Treasurer, and adding “Advance #605” in the memo line. Donations may also be sent to UMCOR.
Meanwhile, skilled volunteers or teams of volunteers interested in assisting with recovery should contact Disaster Recovery at 800-242-8011, extension 149.
“We’ve been working very hard to communicate with volunteers to go through the SRC … because we have a big picture that maybe they don’t have,” Garrison said. “(We are) encouraging people that God may be calling them to a place of service, but they need to wait for God’s timing.”


This article relates to the Florida Conference Disaster Recovery Ministry.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a freelance writer based in Viera, Fla.